UPDATED: Norfolk people evacuated from Devon hotel following fire

Holidaymakers from Norfolk are among those to have their vacations cut short after a fire spread through a hotel in Devon.

Holidaymakers from Norfolk are among those to have their vacations cut short after a fire spread through a hotel in Devon.

Guests at the Tantons Hotel, in Bideford, were awoken in the early hours of today to find that a fire had broken out on the third floor of the building.

A 58-year-old man was arrested at the scene on suspicion of arson.

Four people had to be rescued by firefighters from the hotel roof, and more than 50 people, many of them elderly and still in their night clothes, were led from the hotel and taken to the nearby Royal Hotel.

Among the guests staying at Tantons Hotel was a party from Norwich-based company Sunrise Direct - the party included 15 people from Norwich, six from Suffolk, seven from Cambridgeshire and 12 from Essex.

Paul Bennett, managing director of Sunrise Direct, said the party had arrived at the Tantons Hotel on Monday and the guests had been due to stay at the hotel for four nights.

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But he said following the fire, Sunrise had made arrangements for the party to return home today.

He said: 'Everybody is safe from the Sunrise party and nobody was hurt.'

He said that this morning police had wanted to speak to some of the people staying at the hotel about the fire, and so the Sunrise party had had to wait until after 3pm today to begin their journey back to East Anglia.

Mr Bennett said: 'We are refunding their holiday costs and helping them make any claims on their travel insurance.

'We understand some people's luggage has been smoke damaged so we will be giving them support on how to claim on their insurance.'

He said Sunrise would also be contacting customers whose future holidays may be affected because of the fire at the Tantons Hotel.

Sixty firefighters were involved in tackling the blaze at the the Grade II listed 18th century hotel which started at about 4am.

Across the river at Ethelwynne Brown Close, eye witnesses Sharon Knox and 12-year-old son Connor Wells were awoken by the increasingly desperate cries of those trapped on the roof.

'At first we thought it was ducks on the river but then we heard people shouting 'help, help', so we dialled 999,' said Sharon.

'I asked for the coastguard because I thought someone had fallen in the river but then Sam got the binoculars out and said 'mum, the hotel's on fire'.

'The smoke was bellowing over and we could see the flames on the roof.'

At about the same time, night duty officers next door at Bideford Police Station also heard the screams for help.

'Three officers forced entry into the hotel and raised the alarm,' said Inspector Ian Dawson.

'They effected the evacuation of the whole premises; the officers who turned up this morning saved lives without a doubt.'

Bideford fire station manager Graham Rooke said there was substantial damage to the third floor of the hotel, and the second floor and roof space have been affected by smoke and heat.

He said: 'At the height of the fire there were 60 firefighters on scene and I would like to commend the crews for their initial actions working in very arduous conditions.

'This was a multi-agency approach and I would also like to thank police, ambulance crews and hotel management for their assistance in affecting the rescue of all 55 persons.'

Some hotel guests who lost their belongings were re-clothed at the Rotary shop in Boutport Street, Barnstaple.

• Do know anybody affected by the fire at the Tantons Hotel in Bideford? Call reporter David Bale on 01603 772427 or email david.bale2@archant.co.uk.

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